Since the Sioux Falls City Democrat first published 160 years ago in what was then Dakota Territory, those who seek to cover the news in this place we call home have asked one simple thing: Trust us.
Trust us – to report events accurately, thoroughly and fairly. Trust us — to tackle, without fear or favor, complex issues of policy that influence daily life. Trust us – to act honorably and with integrity. Trust us – to call out greed, hypocrisy and corruption, wherever they hide.
To be sure, journalists and journalism serving the good people of South Dakota have done so, earnestly but imperfectly, since that first four-sheet newspaper was published in what only later became Sioux Falls.
And in darker days, we have failed – by not asking the toughest questions, by falling under the influence of a particular party or special interest, or by allowing the journalistic sins of laziness and conventional wisdom to alter the pursuit of the truth.
But trust, as most of us learn eventually, is built not from perfection but from transparency – from a sincere and sustained effort to do one’s best, a willingness to admit error, a lack of arrogant intent.
So on behalf of all of us at South Dakota News Watch, welcome.
We aim to earn your trust.
What you are reading today is a dream realized.
Nearly three years ago, with the encouragement of a great many people, the two of us began exploring the feasibility of launching a non-profit effort to report the most important statewide stories of our time.
Being former journalists, we grieved over changes we had witnessed in the industry to which we devoted a combined 82 years.
While we saw newspapers and broadcasters work hard to buck trends, and remain relevant and vigilant in a complex world, we also recognized a growing unease among people we knew – a sense that something important was missing. And they wanted it back.
In fact, studies show that all age groups have more interest than ever in the kind of skeptical and penetrating reporting that gives citizens a clearer understanding of their changing world.
Fortunately, searching for a model that might work, we encountered the well-documented rise of non-profit journalism that has sought to fill the void created by diminishing news resources nationwide.
ProPublica, for example, was founded in 2007 with the belief that investigative reporting is critical to our democracy. Partnering frequently with regional and national journalism organizations, ProPublica has won four Pulitzer prizes – a testament to its excellence, viability and vision.
Closer to home, journalism non-profits in Iowa and Wisconsin have produced news projects on topics as diverse as immigration, mental health, the use of pesticides and the rise of hate crimes. Often collaborating side by side with established print, digital and broadcast newsrooms, they have produced astounding work that is serving the public interest.
Journalism, as most of us have known it, is changing. And it is not yet clear what it will be 25, 30 and more years from now.
But we know this: Our country’s founders enshrined the importance of a free press for good reason. They knew, as we surely must today, that a society cannot be free without the unfettered flow of ideas.
That is why South Dakota News Watch exists – to add, in some small way, to the free flow of ideas in this most remarkable of states.
In this, our pilot year, we pledge four things:
- To uphold the highest principles of professional journalism.
- To admit our mistakes.
- To operate transparently – and to expect the same of others.
- To always listen.
We know we have much to prove. We will do our best.
We are able to launch because of the generosity of many people. To those benefactors, we say: Thank you. If you like what you see and read over the next few months, we ask that you consider supporting this public trust with a tax-deductible donation.
Today, we join the long since dead Sioux Falls City Democrat and its hundreds of distinguished cousins in newspapers, radio and television across our state in asking: Trust us.
And to that we add this humble request: Join us.